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Tails from Jollity Farm                   The Sebring Saga

Thursday  ( blue skies, please go away )
  Live, from Vanessa’s Hospitality Showcase and Lounge, Aston Martin and
Maserati are proud to present “ The Taming of the Shrill ” with David Richards and
Claudio Berro. As noted in an official press release, ace reader of the rulebook
Martin Kauffman of IMSA allowed a protest to be filed by Team Green ( as in British
Racing ) against the Team Trident. Ford vs. ex-GM ( also known as the Fiat
brothers ) by proxy. As the track PA boomed with the voice of Dr. Don explaining
that all is cool with having the MC 12 in attendance, both adversaries were stuffing
biscuit at Vanessa’s Non-Waffle House.

  You have to wonder just how serious all this posturing really was ? Regarding
the subject of homologation, past examples of what the FIA has considered legal
have been met with some skepticism and the MC 12 is no exception. Just
because an FIA technical passport has been issued for a particular car does not
mean it is free from further scrutiny and this usually means a different look from
the ACO.

  The scene at Vanessa’s made for great people watching. Italians and Brits
mixing with gringos, Germans and a multi-ethnic Panoz contingent. Vanessa and
Larry run a tight ship and as W.C. Fields once remarked, “ none of your
peccadillo’s in here !” Politics were conducted in a low-key manner over an
assortment of fresh cooked delicacies. There always seemed to be someone
being interviewed for TV. Hard cards were issued and punched at the door and
experience dictates you don’t want to be on the losing end of an argument with
Vanessa. Not unless fried squirrel is your diet staple. No wonder that Aston and
Maserati were playing nice inside Vanessa’s big tent.

  We got hosed, this time from the weather. Rain, rain and more rain. Florida,
unlike the state of California, doesn’t seem to have the run off so it just gathers
until you have thousands of small lakes. In California we have mudslides and
lose houses, at least the water moves. Florida becomes an instant lake upon
where you are standing - just add water. Thursday's planned qualification session
went right down the proverbial drain leaving a mixed bag of times from
Wednesday and the morning's running. More than a few drivers were annoyed and
the evening practice promised to see a few resumes get padded.

Not a finger !
  The Champion team knew the race was theirs to lose. With no Joest, Veloqx or
Audi Sport Anywhere to worry about, Dave the Magic Man had the top chauffeurs
aboard his pair of R8 prototypes. Just before the night practice, Allan McNish
reached inside his bag only to slice his middle finger wide open due to a casually
placed razor. It has yet to be proven if anyone connected with team car # 1 had
anything to do with this ( you can start laughing now Brad ! ) but it didn’t seem to
affect Nishy too much with the exception of getting a nomex glove on. He and TK
swapped fast lap times with the lowlander coming out on top by the slimmest of
margins. TK has his big six at Le Mans compared to the Lowlander's one but at
this moment in time there is little if anything to choose between the two. They are
simply the best prototype drivers in the world and it was all on display at Auditown
that week.

Last Clown Standing
  The Corvette team went about their business completely oblivious to the political
process surrounding the Aston Martin team and Maserati. The media reports
about GM's financial condition are of far more importance to Pratt & Miller than
whether or not the MC 12 is legal. Rumors aside, expect the Pratt brats to be back
for another couple of seasons. Their act is not transferable to the other functioning
series in the U.S. and one would be hard pressed to see the point. Maserati was
in the first act of Pagliacci and would continue to offer performances daily until late
Saturday night. You had to wonder how a team and car that did so well in the FIA
GT could be so out of sorts at Sebring. The MC 12 never appeared to come to
grips ( pun intended ) with the circuit and it seems that the damper engineer may
have missed the flight.

  I need to mention the Saleen because the car is there, the team effort is there but
is Saleen there or anyone connected with the parent company that wants or cares
if the S7R succeeds ? Surely this private team deserve better. This leaves us with
the Aston Martin effort. Prodrive may have overdone it with almost everything in
British Racing Green and the Aston logo plastered on everything from generators
to computers, however, the DBR 9 is the genuine article. The car has a long way to
go in terms of the kind of development that only actual racing can provide. One can
test all they want but it is the pressure cooker of a race that measures man and
machine. Case in point was the # 57 losing a wheel with Brabs aboard and
damaging an axle. As Brabs pointed out, "better now than Saturday".

That's about a minute and a half…
  The GT2 field was mostly full of Porsche GT3's. Don't you find that amusing, a
class called 2 with 3's… why not make it GT-5 ? Customer pressure on PMNA
resulted in Alex Job only having one werks supported car for the season with AJR
turning the #24 in to a private entry. Paddock talk has the money being on the
Lizards, which based on last season's showing makes sense. Petersen White
Lightning is the wild card and had the strongest driving line up along with the #23
AJR GT3 RSR. The Panoz Esperante always seems to be a step behind and the
talent behind the wheel of the coupes continues to impress but are frustrated by a
variety of weirdness. I sure wish BMWNA would bring PTG back to the ALMS. GT2
needs the friction. Time for dinner…

Voodoo Camper
  Home for the next three nights was a large F-350 Ford based camper that had
been arranged for Brooksie through the efforts of Vanessa. He needed a closer
base of operations to deal with his Euro clients and I agreed that the drive and
total drag of getting rooms in and around Sebring made financial sense. Maybe
not mental but how could you argue being situated in between Vanessa and one
of the Aston Martin coaches. Jollity Farm as it became known, was stuffed with
wine, Bombay Sapphire and a mix of CD's that would rival a late night gig on NPR.
And the shower worked just fine. The media center was a one-minute walk away
and Vanessa's kitchen was outside my window. Misery of that we'll have none
because we know of one that’s always lots of fun. Hoy-hoy ! Now if only Cara de
Vlaming were here…. Lil' Debbie, Lil' Debbie I'm a comin' home to you….. time for
Southern Culture on the Skids.

Friday ( the day before the big one )
  Nevermore, what the hell is that noise and tapping outside my window ? McNish
was telling me to get my ass up and roll out for breakfast. I reached for the digital
and snapped a shot through the window, Regis the Archival Edition joined in the
facial expressions and the trio turned and headed for Vanessa's. If I want to eat I
better get motorvatin'…

Stereo Enhanced Mono…
  The Friday morning practice sessions didn’t reveal much except that everyone
could go much faster on a dry track with a nice bright sun.
The cast of Porsche factory and ex-factory drivers playing musical chairs aboard
the GT-3 squads showed up on the time sheets. Alex Job and Petersen were
setting the stage for a rumble in the alley. The Lizards appeared grounded and
surprisingly ineffective. Not since when AJR surprised the factory team of Dick
Barbour had there been this much intra squad unrest. Anyone with a trained ear
and eye on the GT3 Porsche field could hear the differences in some of the cars.

  A press conference had been called by Scott Atherton to be held at the Chateau
Elan Hotel at 12:45 for a few announcements. Borrowing Brooksie's golf cart, I
picked up a few stragglers that were also heading to the hotel and we arrived to a
cramped, small room that had spilled over in to the outer hall. The big news was
that Mazda was coming back as an engine supplier and supporting B-K
Motorsport's new Courage C-65 in LMP 2. Great, glad to hear it… and has signed on as the primary sponsor for the upcoming Grand
Prix of Atlanta. Sportsbook has inked a one-year deal, what the series needs is
someone to step up with a three or five year deal. In the past neither of these
announcements would have been worth a separate press calling but the ALMS
finds itself behind the Grand-Am 8 ball and needs to treat every positive
announcement as a major event. By the time Sebring rolls around, the GA has
already run a couple of races. A serious shake up of the calendar should be
considered. The distraction of the ACO and the Maserati maybe fine as forum
fodder but it does not translate to the track. Racing, that is what a true fan wants,
leave the polemics to the politicians.

  Friday afternoon is always a good time to wander over and go through trash and
trinket row. Michael Cotton and Derek Bell were supposed to be in one of the tents
signing copies of Cotton's newest release, " Blue & Orange - The History of Gulf in
Motorsports" around 3 PM. Dave Price suggested we go over and see the signing
circus. Upon arrival there was indeed a long line of fans, many clutching items for
Derek to sign, but no Cotton or Bell. Seems that Michael got there on time but not
finding Derek decided to go look for him. Right, in this mob ?!? So here comes
Derek running through the crowd like it was an obstacle course. This earned him
an earful from Pricey. The gathered faithful loved it. I took in the sights of the rest of
the traders and had several people asked me the whereabouts of Bill Oursler and
David Soares and if they were coming for the race. "Not sure," I replied. Ah, the
issues as raised by a columnist.

Go Speed Go !
  Speaking of racing, the Speed World Challenge is one of the best shows I have
seen since they closed up Ascot and the sprint cars had to look for dirt elsewhere.
Robin Liddell was in his first full season aboard one of the Jon Groom Porsche
GT3 Cup cars. Farnbacher has brought wunderkid ( he's actually closer to thirty )
Wolf Henzler over to go for the title. Wolfboy drives Porsches, period. His wins last
season in the Speed GT were from pole and anyone who has seen him drive
comes away pretty impressed. This of course, leads to talk that Farnbacher has a
few tricks on the GT3. Liddell didn’t qualify all that badly but he didn’t qualify all that
well either. Sebring is a great place to have a big V-8 or V-10 for the start and hope
you lead in to turn one. Archer's big Viper did exactly that. Liddell went backwards
to 12th at the start due to a bizarre occurrence. I was standing next to the pit wall
with Tony Dowe who had been drafted in to the Groom team, when a technician
from PMNA walked up and told Tony that the software in Robin's car had been
changed and it will affect his start. A hell of a time to learn of this ! Liddell did
recover and charged through the field and caught Henzler who had developed a
slight misfire and was in second place. Side by side went the two Porsches
leaving room for Andy Pilgrim to make a move from 4th and take second away
from both GT3 drivers. So the podium was Archer is the Viper, Pilgrim in a Caddy
and Liddell in the Porsche.

  Back at Vanessa's a spirited discussion was well underway with Dave Price and
Jeff Hazell about the future of prototype racing. David Richards eventually joined
the group with Mrs. Richards commenting on what a great change this was from
Formula One. No doubt… Jollity Farm became Gil Campbell's dressing room as
she and Ed Nicholls were heading off to a dinner gig with Dr. Don and Company.
Just as well as the GM of Laguna Seca was way over dressed for our dinner party
at Chez Vanessa. Tony Dowe was heading back home but stopped off long
enough to entertain us with some great stories from the TWR days in the same
vein as his recollection of how Le Mans was won in 1990 that ran last month on
the site. More will be forthcoming from Mr. Dowe, we promise.

Saturday ( The Glorious Battle )
  The weather was going to behave with a slight breeze and mostly clear skies.
Breakfast at Vanessa's was a muted affair as the heavies ate quietly and readied
for battle. The morning warm up was without any major incidents. Time for the
who put the pomp in the pompity pomp to get on with it. The press releases
dealing with the protests as filed by the Aston Martin Team against I already forgot
continue to be issued. At least they make great pads to make race notes on.

  At a quarter to eleven a roar went up from the crowd as the field took the green
and thundered through turn one. A fine madness indeed, commit us all. Guy Smith
was the first casualty with a puncture aboard the #20 Dyson Lola. That's the way it
goes with the Dyson team, flawless or frustration. I give Rob's boys a lot of credit
as they faithfully take the battle whenever they can to the Audis. Sebring wasn’t
going to be flawless on this day but in a way it was to be heroic for the long time
competitors. Good guys to cheer for.

All aboard the Roogalator…
  What many expected to happen in GT2 took place on lap 3. The Alex Job #23
Porsche was reeling in #31 Petersen GT3 and caught up on the pit straight. All
this nonsense of AJR being finished in GT was put to rest as Timo Bernhard
absolutely stuffed it to Jorg Bergmeister in turn one and motored off. The #23 car
opened up a sizeable margin and it appeared that GT2 was going to be a rerun for
AJR. It wasn’t. Close to the four-hour mark the motor let go in #23 and Sascha
Maassen pulled off course at turn 16. Bergmeister was there to inherit the lead.
But where were the Lizards ? The #44 GT3 retired earlier with a dead motor and
that happened after only two hours. The motor explosions were to claim a total of
four GT3 Porsches. A lot of long faces were around the Porsche truck and one
doesn’t have to ask too many questions to figure what was going through their
minds. AJR didn’t have to worry about shipping the deceased motor from the #23
car back to PMNA. No sir, it was going in a crate headed straight for Weissach
Flacht. That should answer how serious the motor problem was. To add to the
rest of AJR's woes, the ordered from above retrofit of the #24 car didn’t seem to
agree with the gearbox and it spent almost as much time apart as together. A
week that Alex and Holly would just as soon forget. Petersen White Lightning ran a
perfect race and were never seriously challenged after the #23 AJR entry went out.
The Lizards saved face by the strong finish of the #45 car albeit 10 laps off the
winner and a team of their caliber has to be disappointed by not running up front
against AJR and Petersen. I asked the winning trio at the usual after race press
gig if they were at all concerned with the amount of motors that expired in the
Porsche camp. Nope, we were all fine was the somewhat suspicious answer.
Hey, what answer should I have expected ? All three, Bergmeister, Long and Luhr
are or have been under contract to Porsche. You think they are going to question
the quality of products from the fatherland ? Not on your Cayenne…

Bay Route
  The Corvette - Aston Martin battle was one of those odd affairs. The Vettes were
clearly faster but the steady pursuit from the Green Machines had the Pratt Brats
constantly looking over their shoulder. Very reminiscent of when the Corvettes
started to seriously challenge the Oreca Vipers a few seasons back, keep the
pressure on and wait for the mistake and make the most of your opportunity. This
is exactly what put the #57 Aston Martin DBR 9 in to the lead close to the 9-hour
mark. Brabs, Turner and that French guy who won Le Mans with Nishy in a
Porsche, Stephane Ortelli kept a steady pace and never lost focus of their task.
Brabs said while taking a break during the race that finishing and reliability were
most important right now and more horsepower will come later. How much more
they will need is questionable as to punctuate the performance of the new Aston,
#57 set a new race lap record. What of the Maserati ? Act two of Pagliacci. Look it

Long Player
  LMP2 or P2 if you insist, is still working on stability. The ugly ducklings are
becoming more like swans and the Courage C-65 is a stunning example of this.
Even though there were five that started the race, they got lost in the shuffle. One
thing is for sure by the time the ALMS gets to Road Atlanta, the B-K Courage
Mazda will get a lot of attention just on sheer volume. Now if that Porsche LMP2
ever gets to market…

  As one would expect the battle and most of the focus were on the Champion Audi
team. And as expected, the battle supreme was left to the two individuals you
would want in a car for the final drama. The two penalties given to the #2 Audi
certainly hurt and from the time sheets alone, cost them the race but like all what's
ifs, that is the way it will remain. Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish put on a
display of night racing that ranks among the finest. The magic man finally got what
he had longed for after so long.

Take One - No alternate - Marty Smarty Party mix…
  After the first Pirro penalty I wandered up to IMSA timing and scoring for an
explanation. I was in the minority as I felt the contact between Gavin in the Corvette
and the Audi was bad judgement on the part of both drivers. Gavin in particular is
never at a loss for words on what he perceives to be bad driving from others. This
discussion could go on for years. Let's just say that many of the top drivers who
run now in GT that also have prototype experience are doing just fine.

  A word about the officiating. IMSA did a good job. Aside from watching to see
what Maserati were doing, Dick Martin and Co. kept things moving along and
hassles were few, at least nothing that resonated out of pit lane. Race Director
Marty Kauffman has to be given credit for keeping a straight face through all the
protest nonsense and paperwork that flowed from Aston Martin's direction. ( I'm
shocked, shocked, that a Maserati has been allowed to race here ) Of course,
timing and scoring has a great bunch of people along with our good friend Chris
Syfert and she rarely makes a mistake, so no problems there. However, the
season is early, no doubt I will find something they do wrong and then complain
about it. Say, maybe after Sears Point ?

Safety fast at last…
  I did witness several incidents that should be addressed out of safety. Everyone
likes a good story and that means if the leader is pitting in a close race or a certain
car and team has been newsworthy, that's where you will find most of the media
attention. I am no different, especially in the later stages of a race where the pit
stops could decide the outcome. I usually find a spot away from the action and
watch from the wall. When a car comes in, air jacks are engaged and as the crew
start their job, a given number of photographers jump over the wall and start their
job. The problem I saw on numerous occasions was that several snappers were
in the way and impeded the progress of the pit crew. Getting one's leg caught in
an air hose as the crew member is trying to change the left rear is a no no. If he
had tugged on the hose without looking up from the rear wheel someone with a
large Canon would have found themselves face down with some broken
equipment. This was not an isolated incident. Maybe what is needed is a delay
that allows the crew to actually be in place working first and then let the hordes
over the wall. If a pro can't get a shot from the pit wall or wait a few extra seconds
for that then a creative reassessment is in order. The IMSA officials couldn't see a
lot of this because it is the crewmembers, not media members, which get the
scrutiny and the penalty.

  The TV crews are not without fault either. During one of the pit stops of the two
Champion Audi entries, the Speed Channel boys stood in front of the #2 car
filming the rear of the #1 car as it left the pit box. So what is wrong with that ? The
#2 car was ready to go and resume the chase but was delayed a few precious
seconds so the TV crew could get out of the way.

Get your cannonball to take me down the line…
  Sebring was an encouraging event. With all the problems and issues facing the
ALMS they needed a good turnout and a decent race. They got both, no small feat
when you consider the field was less that 40 cars. The strength of the ALMS is in
it's individuality and the core belief that uniqueness does matter. Prototypes and
manufacturers come and go, sportscar racing has been like that since the birth of
the sport. Just ask Aston Martin, who last enjoyed a class win at Sebring in1956. A
DB3S to a DBR 9, it was worth The Weight.

                                                                          Kerry Morse
                                                                           April 2005

Fiona doubting McNish
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sportscarpros Not that it's any of my business

Features and pieces by Kerry Morse
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The Archive Edition
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The X Factor
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Jeff Hazell takes a look
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Robin's nest
watching the defectives
dos gringos
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The Gulf Wars
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on with the show
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Attack of the Audi Army
Ortelli's to go coffee cup